I’m mostly writing this for myself, to evaluate where I am so far and to do it in a way that makes it hard to weasel out of an honest evaluation. But I figured since I’d stated my Lenten goals publicly I should also be honest with you, my readers, about how well I’m meeting those goals. I want to keep it real and to acknowledge that Lent is a struggle and that I often fall short of my ambitious plans.
My Facebook and social media fast is going pretty well. I do find myself checking my email too frequently; but I feel like I notice more when I’m just seeking stimulation from the computer. Honestly, it’s kind of a relief not to be constantly on the verge of the Facebook vortex. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it when Lent is over. There have been a couple of times I’ve been tempted to break the fast because I forgot to turn off notifications and Facebook sent me an email that people had tagged me in a post or a comment. I really wanted to respond. (I did respond in one case where it was a question on the Liturgy of the Hours, I figured that was in the spirit of helping someone else with their prayer life.) I’ve been itching to write updates about the kids and to post pictures and videos and such and have been sending more phone texts to Dom to tell him about cute things the kids said when I just had to share.
Incidentally, I also noticed that having given up sweet treats I’m not doing nearly as much snacking when I’m bored or anxious. I never thought I had a problem with emotional eating but it seems I have developed that habit sometime in recent years. I’ve noticed that the impulse to eat and the impulse to check email or Facebook feels about the same, it’s a sort of need to fill the hunger. I know intellectually that I should be attempting to fill that hunger with God. I’m not sure I’m doing a great job at that. But at least I’m making a first step at breaking the impulsive behavior with fasting.
I’m not doing quite so well with replacing social media with spiritual reading, however. I haven’t been able to settle on a book. The Case for Christ doesn’t really seem to count as spiritual reading, though I did enjoy it. Same with novels about English Catholics during the Reformation. They are good but if I’m being honest I don’t think they are deepening my relationship with God. I did pick up Pope Benedict’s book on Holy Women, read the first chapter on St Hildegarde of Bingen and then wanted to blog about it and so put it by my desk and haven’t cracked it since. I think the biggest problem was that I began my Lent with a mental reservation—that I would finish Middlemarch—I succeeded… finally! (I began it in December, I believe. Or maybe it was November.) But that definitely sidetracked me away from a strict fast. So now I need to pick a book and buckle down to some reading every day.
I have been doing Lenten reading with Bella, though. The little purple book from church and biographies of St Francis and St Benedict. That does count for me too and have all prompted some good discussions and some extra Gospel reading. Bella says she loves reading from the Gospels.
I have been trying to be more faithful about the Liturgy of the Hours, including the Office of Readings, and with reading the daily Gospel and Mass readings as well as a Gospel meditation. I’ve been finding the Divine Office podcast invaluable. I listen to Morning Prayer while I cook breakfast and other hours while I fold laundry or drive to the store. With headphones I listen while sitting with the kids as they fall asleep. I’m not doing all the hours every day. Some days I’ve only done one hour. But I’m doing more hours more consistently than I had been doing for a while. I don’t feel like I’m focusing deeply, but I do find phrases and words running through my head at other times of day and so I feel like my day is more filled with prayer and that I’m praying in between times too, aware of God’s presence as I go about my day.
I was going to say that my 40 bags in 40 days project has stalled out; but that’s not strictly true. Rather, it has been going much, much more slowly than I anticipated. It’s not from lack of enthusiasm or desire but simply an issue of time management. Turns out the reason I haven’t been getting this stuff done before Lent also holds true during this season: I just don’t have time every day to tackle something. Turns out just getting the basics done and tending these kids really is a full time job.
I have done a little bit here and there, though, and every bit helps. This week my sister took all four kids to Ikea with her and I had a whole morning to myself. I vacuumed and cleaned but I also boxed up two boxes of the kid’s books. Many of them the kids aren’t really old enough to appreciate yet. Many are ones I just don’t like reading—like Curious George. I just put them on a shelf in the office, I didn’t separate out books to keep and bring out later and books to give away. At least there is now more room on their shelves. I also bagged up a bunch of dolls and stuffed animals and shoved them into the chest in my room. Again, they didn’t leave the house but if they aren’t missed they might at some future date. And the children so far have not missed them at all. It was really nice to get through a bunch of stuff quickly and in a focused fashion and it also brings home the reason I haven’t been making more progress: seeing how it was to work without interruption made me more aware of how much the constant stream of demands impedes my getting anything done.
Also, I’m finding it easier to identify and box up things to get rid of than to actually get them out the door. In the first week I filled three boxes with some of my books. I thought I’d be able to give the books away on Freecycle by grouping them by type: a box of books on pregnancy and childcare, a box of Tom Clancy and other spy thrillers (Dom’s, obviously), a box of fantasy and science fiction. But the only box that went was a box of Star Trek novels. Everything else has just languished. Now I need to make some phone calls to see if I can find anyone to take them off my hands. I think I recall that the Friends of the Library don’t have storage space and only take books just before their annual sale. Frustrating.
One thing that has been troubling me in general but has come to the fore this Lent has been how almsgiving fits in with my spiritual life. I know it is one of the three pillars of Lent and when I was single I did give a lot during Lent. But since getting married and becoming a stay-at-home mom it has been hard for me to come to terms with the financial reality of no longer being in sole control of all my own money. While I am perfectly comfortable with the idea of Dom being the sole breadwinner and I don’t mind having a joint bank account, I do sometimes struggle with the feeling of not being in control. And for some reason it doesn’t feel like almsgiving to me when Dom and I decide to give to something and he writes a check. I just don’t feel the sacrifice somehow. So I’ve been trying to pray about it and ask God to help me make almsgiving meaningful.
Two things have come up. First, my spiritual director said she was feeling called to do more to help the poor and she is now asking all her directees if they would give to a food pantry or other charity in place of a free-will offering to her for her services—I know that services isn’t exactly the right word but I can’t think of what word I do mean. Second, this morning as I was brushing my teeth suddenly the idea of the “curse jar” came to mind—the practice of putting money in a jar when you say a bad word in order to help you break the habit. Now, I don’t have a problem with swearing; but I do have a short temper and all my kids can tell you that I get frustrated and yell at them especially when I’m tired and hungry. And I have been trying to figure out how to regularly add money to the rice bowl. It kind of comes with readings to do but they aren’t really kid-friendly—at least not to kids Bella’s age. So seemingly out of nowhere I thought: I should put a dollar in the rice bowl every time I lose my temper and yell or spank in frustration. Ouch! Can’t I do that next Lent? This Lent is already half over? No. That’s weaseling out. I was certain that this is what I’m supposed to start doing right now. Actually starting now because I just snapped at Sophie for interrupting me while I was trying to finish writing this blog post.
This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to add a new thing to my Lent after Ash Wednesday. I’m really kind of curious to see how it goes.
Last, but far from least, I haven’t yet gone to confession this Lent. I am trying to get better at going to confession regularly; but it is a habit that I never formed and so it is a very big struggle for me. Since I’ve started spiritual direction especially I’ve had this looming feeling that I’m not even sure I really know how to make a good examination of conscience and a good confession. I’ve read plenty of guides; but somehow they all seem too vague and impersonal and don’t really have to do with me and my struggles. Does that make sense? I have this sense too that now I’ve got a monthly spiritual direction meeting it’s even more ridiculous that I’m getting to spiritual direction more than to confession. I think I need to set up a regular monthly appointment for it. Our parish—and all the parishes around here—only offer confession one hour a week: the hour right before the Saturday anticipatory Mass. I find it an inconvenient time and moreover I really hate the feeling of walking against the stream of incoming people as I’m leaving after my confession. Usually I’ve been crying and I feel so conspicuous. Once the ushers even said something to me about coming back for Mass sometime. I didn’t know if they were just trying to make polite noises or really didn’t get that I go to Mass with my whole family on Sunday morning and was there for confession. The fact is that confession is not a sacrament that is easy for me personally and it is also not well supported by the way parishes round here cling to the apparently immemorial custom of Saturday evening confession as the only standard time. (Apart from the Wednesday evening The Light Is On for You program, which is nice but ends before the kids’ bedtime and so is even more impractical for me than Saturday afternoon.)
So, how is your Lent going? Are you needing a bit of a directional correction? Have you slid off the wagon completely? Are you having the best Lent ever?